Communication in leadership

Have you ever been in a situation where you think you know what you are to do and find out later that what you were told was not interpreted correctly? How about not understanding someone at all, no matter how hard you both try?

These are the situations you run into far more often than you even know. At work, you ask people to do something and find out only later that things were not done as you wished because the instructions were not interpreted as they were intended. I read a blog post today that also covered the topic of communication for leadership and thought it has some great points. The best advice I can think of is to just ask if you’re understood, but not outright, because people will generally say yes, even when they do not. Ask a probing question or two to determine if someone has understood you.

Another problem with communication is that, with an infinite number of people come an infinite number of experiences because we are all unique in this arena, and even identical twins will have different experiences in life. This creates our own understanding of situations and the world at large which guide us in certain directions with the way we do things. This is again where the importance of asking a couple probing questions comes in because the instructions may be simple and even spoken clearly, but the rascal of experience always plays with our understanding.

At the Democratic National Convention this year, the news media stated that only Bill Clinton could make a difficult subject, such as the economy or budgeting, simple. This is something he has done very well, from his first campaigns through his time as president. The note here is that we have to make things as clear as possible, whether or not someone may think our IQ is less, because we need to reach as many as possible as leaders. In doing so, we need to be quite certain that our language and method of speech is able to be understood by as many as possible, not just those with doctorate degrees.

Keep things simple and ask probing questions for understanding, recipe to clear communication. We can never be 100% clear to 100% of the populace, but if we can get to the great majority, we are already several steps ahead for higher productivity and cohesion in our organizations as leaders. More tips can be found in this article about the same subject.

As always, I’m interested in what you think! Examples from your own life, what you have seen, what you have been involved with in similar situations and the ways to improve it are always sought to increase our knowledge about leadership.

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The buck stops here

Have you ever called in to a customer service line and, after waiting for 20 minutes just to hear someone answer the phone, tell you “I’m sorry, but I will have to transfer you to someone else?”

I was checking on some reservations for dinner earlier today because my birthday was earlier in the week and my mom’s is the day after mine, so my grandmother made reservations to celebrate with us both, but I had to change the time for the reservations. Something that seemed so simple to do ended after almost 25 minutes of running around on the phone while different departments tried finding the reservations book. This got me thinking about leadership, as most any situation does, and I remembered something from the books I have about President Truman-his famous sign stating “The buck stops here.”

Different people use the saying for different things, but as it was used by Harry Truman, it meant that with leaders, you don’t let the situation go beyond you, the decision is yours and you make it. Much like the reservation call, I don’t mind waiting for the answer, but having others try relearning what the last person had already learned about my request, only to tell it to another person after being transferred, gets old fast. When we are in charge of others, of situations, or even selling products in a retail sales position, we have to be willing to do all of the work to take care of any problem that arises and not let it slip out of our control, taking care of it ourselves. This is true if we cannot actually make a call to resolve an issue because we become responsible for finding the one that has the authority, then relaying the information.

The nonprofit organization I was in charge of was a military style organization in terms of uniforms, funding, and organizational chart of positions, but the same advice held true there, just under the name of a uniform chain of command. The idea is that people are responsible for so many others and we have to be willing to work for them in return, but always the same people. As leaders, we have to be certain the buck truly does stop here, take responsibility, and then move on to the next  problem or project.

I invite everyone to tell examples of their time spent in leadership and how they have dealt with such situations. Do you agree or disagree with the notes given here? Why or why not? I’m always looking for comments from others to continue the process of teaching leadership topics to all.

History plays its part in the present

We had our elections this week and decided on different people to lead our country, decisions about taxes, amendments to state constitutions, and the news media tries its best to explain why a person won or lost their campaign. One of the issues brought up was the change in demographics in the country and it got me thinking about organizational culture.

In business, nonprofit organizations, or political parties, organizational culture is often what the history surrounding these are and we find change difficult in anything, let alone change from what has worked for us before. Culture is how we teach new people to our organization what we are all about and this is probably the biggest reason it is so difficult to change, but we need to constantly remain cognizant of the fact that businesses which don’t adapt soon cease to exist and thus with organizational culture. It is not to say we need to forget where our organizations started and came from, but we cannot be locked into it either.

Keeping with open communication from previous blogs, I read an article that talks about open communication being the cornerstone of making organizational cultural change easier. Some tips to going about change were found in another article I found and it also mentions how difficult change can be.

The importance is not that change is difficult, but that change must occur as times change. Just as demographics sneaked their way into the election with few noticing, business markets change, leaders in nonprofit organizations change, and social issues in the nation can sneak up on us as well. Our job as leaders is to watch out for the changes and be ready to adjust to them.

I think of my time as a leader in a nonprofit organization for this because I took the reins of leadership after a 20 plus year veteran had become ill and could no longer be in charge. He was not one to let others have much responsibility because he liked “making sure things were done right,” which meant he did it all, but I knew when I took over that this adage was going to change. Just because it worked before did not mean I wanted to do everything myself and saw it better to train others in various positions so that they would one day be ready to take my position. It takes effort to change the culture, but sure enough, given a few months of working at it, people began doing more and they actually thanked me for it later because they felt a part of the organization by having the responsibility in it. Now they were the ones writing the present which will one day also be part of the history for others just as the current “history” plays its part in the present.

I challenge readers here to drop a line, make comments on what you think or how you have dealt with change in your roles as leaders. I believe in life long learning and hope others can benefit from what we all state here.

What do you mean…open communication?

 

What do you mean by open communication? Telling my deepest, darkest secrets and innermost thoughts? No, this is certainly not what I mean, but I have referenced the idea before in other blog posts and thought it best to define it.

One article I read tries discussing some of the various thoughts about open communication and some of the benefits of using it. Key takeaways are: that you and your followers are able to speak about anything, that the freedom to speak about anything means that everyone speaks without worry of repercussions, and people also praise each other when it is deserved. Open communication also means that the leaders at the top of any organization get their message to everyone without being filtered through extra levels of management-speak to everyone and give them all the same message. Lastly, it is about keeping everyone in the organization aware of what is going on with the organization, whether good or bad, so that people can help out in the cause if it’s bad, but also to keep doing what they are doing well if the organization is doing good.

An example of a company that has done very well with open communication, both internally and externally, is Zappos. The company has done exceedingly well, partly from using the internet as a selling point, but also because its employees are able to resolve issues with customers themselves without having to ask for permission. The company believes in being open, within and without, as stated in the link to the company.

In my own experience, I found that telling my subordinates what needed to be done to keep the higher levels of management happy, how to succeed in the organization, and that I appreciate their efforts, both individually and collectively, have always paid off with better performance, better engaged subordinates, and the willingness to work for you, even if not asked.

I’m always looking for people’s comments and opinions about my blog posts. It gives others more insight than what I have experienced and helps teach others to become better followers, leaders, and individuals.

Making life easy takes effort

 

Making life easy takes effort? Sounds like a paradox if ever one was stated, correct? That ranks up there with the sun is shining, but it’s snowing. Although I have seen snow falling when the sun is shining in the Sierra Nevada mountains, making life easy as a leader is done through delegation. Delegation is also what leads to us having more time to make other decisions and actually go home at night, rather than sleeping in the office.

A few things come to mind when a person hears the word delegation. Some ask “why delegate it if I know how to do the task better” or “I can do the task faster.” Part of being a great leader is teaching others how to lead, fostering participation and communication in your team, and trusting others. These are difficult tasks, but I have mentioned them all in posts before as necessary to leadership in pieces and now we are beginning to show how they fit together as a whole.

We have to pick the right person for whatever task we decide to delegate authority on and this is usually decided on the nature of the task, whether it is critical, organization breaking or not. It is best to start small and work to larger spheres of authority for followers and this will take both time and patience. Some steps are included in an article I read with a few similar notes on the steps in this article. They keys are to allow for mistakes, give the authority to the delegate to have control of the task, and accept the outcome.

This brings an example to mind. One of the best leaders I have ever served under had one fatal flaw in his leadership style-he was a micro manager and did not like to give authority to anyone else. He was retired and lived only five or ten minutes away from the building our nonprofit organization was based out of, but he could never take trips anywhere because he did not want to give up control of the organization for even a little while. Later on, after he died, there were members that would have been willing to take over for him, but because he did not train or trust others to do any parts of the job, people had to learn from scratch. The benefits of delegation also include having options of good succession planning.

I am looking for your thoughts, opinions, and examples on this or any other leadership topic I have blogged about. I look forward to conversations with like minded people that want to share and help teach others the value of leadership.

We are who people think we are

 

Ever hear of the saying “you are what you are perceived to be?” Or thought to yourself “there’s more to that person than people give him or her credit for?” Thus part of our dilemma as leaders-we are who people think we are and our task is to be thought of as we would like, rather than what others perceive us to be.

I read an article by a classmate discussing the importance of praising in public and criticizing in private. I like that he called it improving in private instead of criticizing, but most know the saying as criticizing in public. I thought this post relevant to the discussion of perception because if we act one way in front of our employees or followers and then have harsh words with under performers (or anyone we are “criticizing” in private), then our image as a leader is tarnished. It will only take a day or two for everyone to learn how you handled the person. We have to be consistent in how we act, how we treat people, and what we do because it’s all part of our character. I cannot overemphasize character enough as a leader and make reference to another blog post that I read just today regarding the same topic.

Our challenge is consistency throughout all of our dealings and also learning what people think of us. Having a friend (or befriending someone) that is a follower helps tremendously here because you need to hear the truth, whether good or bad, to learn how we are taken by others. I have said before that I am fairly quiet and people’s perception is that of an introvert, but I learned this long ago and use it to my advantage now. In unfamiliar situations, it lets me sneak around to observe and listen without being noticed much. In being quiet, after the initial notice of this by others, people tend to think I always know the solution to a problem because when I do speak, it is usually short, to the point, and based on getting a solution pushed through. This adds power for me because, whether I know an answer or not, I am perceived as having the answer and become both relied upon and trusted.

I challenge you to leave comments, opinions, and experiences with how perception has worked for or against you to help teach others in this process of life we all live. I’m also looking for tips on how you changed your perception with others for the same reasons.

Keep your crew challenged

 

Imagine yourself doing the same thing day in, day out. It doesn’t matter what you enter as this “thing,” whether it be a job, a task, cooking, or laundry because eventually you grow tired of doing it, no matter what it is.

I read an article recently that went over keeping your best talent in any organization, particularly to “grow, develop, and make progress” with them. I thought the post was great because we do worry about our lowest performers because they are slowing down productivity and probably causing us lost time and money. One thing people forget is to also look at the top performing talent in our organization, whether it be in business or nonprofit organizations.

I will use two examples I ran into with higher ups in the organization leaving top performers being bored. As the aforementioned article mentions, you have to watch out for recruiters looking for your top performers for their own organizations, but the performers may also look elsewhere because they are not being challenged enough. When I was involved with a nonprofit organization awhile back, I got so bored after accomplishing all educational tracts available for me, learning nearly all of the staff positions in the same organization, that I did not know what to do. I was told I was doing great quite often, especially for being far younger than most people doing the same jobs, but after I learned most jobs, it was either move up or move out because I was bored to tears with just twiddling my thumbs, doing the same tasks repetitively.
The end result was leaving the organization after moving up because there was no challenge left in the higher positions of leadership and the mind begins to wander, wondering what else to do.

On the flip side, and for the second example, I had a class last semester where someone in my group noticed I had the highest score in the group and that person stated “I’ll beat you on the next exam.” She did not realize that competition drives me like nothing else and because the university I attend does not grant A+ grades, just A’s as the highest, I don’t worry about getting higher grades than an A in any class because I will not be rewarded with anything for it. When the next exam came along, some 4-5 weeks later, I studied just a bit more than usual and when we received our tests back, I had received the best grade in the class. I asked the lady what her score was by asking “did you beat me?” She showed her test to me, which was also an A, but she didn’t have to ask what my score was because someone else in class had come up, hitting me on the shoulder, and saying “best score, huh?”

The take away is that we do have to look at our low performing team members, but never forget that those in the middle can be developed further and the top performers have to be praised, but also challenged, or else they may just find boredom and look elsewhere to feed the hunger created by it.

As always, looking for comments, your own experiences, and any opinions on my posts. My challenge to you is to leave comments for us all to continue learning.